Tuesday Reads: Hugs Help

Good Morning!!

Besides being the official celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, yesterday was National Hugging Day. I’m using that as an excuse to post pictures of creatures hugging each other in today’s post. From Psychology Today: National Hugging Day: Five Scientific Facts About Hugging, by Sebastian Ocklenburg. Excerpts:

No one knows exactly when the first hug occurred between two human beings, but we do know that hugs have been in the human behavioral repertoire for at least several thousand years. In 2007, a team of archeologist discovered the so-called “Lovers of Valdaro” in a Neolithic Tomb near Mantua in Italy (Stewart, 2007). The lovers are a pair of human skeletons that have been buried holding each other in a tight embrace (see Figure 1). They have been determined to be approximately 6000 years old, so we know for sure that people already hugged each other in Neolithic times….

When we hug, we wrap our arms around another person. Typically, we lead the hug with one arm. A German study in which I was a co-author analyzed whether people preferentially hug with their left or their right arm (Packheiser et al., 2018). In this study, we observed hugging couples at the arrivals or departure lounges at international airports and also analyzed videos of people who blindfold themselves and let strangers hug them on the street. We found that overall, most people hugged to the right….

A study from the University of North Carolina investigated how hugging before a stressful event reduced the negative effects of stress on the body (Grewen et al., 2003). Two groups of couples were tested: In one group, partners were given 10 minutes time to hold hands and watch a romantic movie, followed by a 20 second hug. In the other group, the partners just rested quietly and did not touch each other. Afterwards one partner had to participate in a very stressful public speaking task and their blood pressure and heart rate were measured while they spoke. The results? Individuals who had received a hug from their partner prior to being stressed showed significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate than those who did not touch their partners before the public speaking task. Thus, hugging leads to lower reactivity to stressful events and may benefit cardiovascular health.

A study from the University of North Carolina investigated how hugging before a stressful event reduced the negative effects of stress on the body (Grewen et al., 2003). Two groups of couples were tested: In one group, partners were given 10 minutes time to hold hands and watch a romantic movie, followed by a 20 second hug. In the other group, the partners just rested quietly and did not touch each other. Afterwards one partner had to participate in a very stressful public speaking task and their blood pressure and heart rate were measured while they spoke. The results? Individuals who had received a hug from their partner prior to being stressed showed significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate than those who did not touch their partners before the public speaking task. Thus, hugging leads to lower reactivity to stressful events and may benefit cardiovascular health.”

Here’s another piece by Ocklenburg on the ways that hugging increases well being. It turns out that hugging can reduce your chances of getting a cold, lower your blood pressure, and improve your mood.

So as we go into day 4 of the MAGA teens story and day 32 of the government shutdown, remember that hugs can help.

The New York Times: Government Shutdown: Updates on Where Things Stand.

It has been a month since the first day of the government shutdown.

Furloughed federal employees have started part-time jobs with delivery and ride-hailing apps and applied for other opportunities, such as yoga-instructor positions, to try to make ends meet without a government paycheck.

Some of the most vulnerable Americans — including the homeless, the elderly and people one crisis away from the streets — are feeling the burden. Without payments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, nonprofit groups that support low-income renters are also struggling. Many other social safety net programs are facing similar crises.

As a bone-chilling flash freeze swept through the Midwest and Northeast over the holiday weekend, hundreds of thousands of federal workers remain furloughed, and some continued to work without pay, including forecasters at the National Weather Service. Veterans of the emergency management field are worried about longer-term trouble, too.

Government workers are suffering.

When it began, the shutdown left about 800,000 federal workers without pay, with just over half continuing to work, including members of the Coast Guard and food safety inspectors. The number of people working has grown as the Trump administration reinterprets longstanding rules, often to the benefit of the president’s base.

Some of the employees who still have to report to work during the shutdown spoke with The New York Times about their experiences….

Many federal workers have filed for unemployment benefits. In Washington, local programs have sprouted up to support the city’s large, struggling federal work force. Nationally, an informal network of businesses has also mobilized to ease the pain.

The article notes that we are approaching the point when the federal courts will run out of money, and the economy is beginning to feel effects. Frankly, with Trump calling even more people back to work without pay, this is starting to feel criminal–it’s forced labor.

The shutdown is impeding law enforcement. No wonder Trump likes it.

Just one story on the MAGA teen Nick Sandmann from The Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville PR firm played a key role in Covington Catholic controversy. The firm is Run/Switch, and one of its partners is Scott Jennings, who is a paid commentator on CNN and also writes a column for the Courier Journal! From the article:

Lion rescued as a cub hugs her rescuer.

RunSwitch partners Steve Bryant and Gary Gerdemann said that Sandmann family asked people they knew over the weekend about getting help with handling the media.

“They reached out to our firm, and we responded,” said Bryant, adding that the business specializes in crisis management “all over the country.”

Scott Jennings, a conservative political commentator and a columnist for the Courier Journal, is the third partner in RunSwitch.

I’ve seen Jennings on CNN and interestingly, he routinely wears a smirk just like the one we all saw on Nick Sandmann’s face. Jennings smirks as other people are talking, no matter what is being said, and then he smirks as he defends whatever Trumpian thing is being discussed during his appearance. I find him utterly repulsive and infuriating.

So why was Jake Tapper the first shitty media man to tweet out the poor little Nick’s PR statement?

So Jennings worked for Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell too. How not surprising. I remember when CNN was a serious news channel, but now it’s just a Fox News wannabe that hires people like Oliver Darcy and Kaitlin Collins away from right wing sites (The Blaze and The Daily Caller respectively).

But I’ll move on to other news. This depressing story broke this morning. The Washington Post: Supreme Court allows Trump restrictions on transgender troops in military to go into effect as legal battle continues.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed President Trump’s broad restrictions on transgender people serving in the military to go into effect while the legal battle continues in lower courts.

Rescued Kangaroo hugs rescuer.

The justices lifted nationwide injunctions that had kept the administration’s policy from being implemented.

It reversed an Obama-administration rule that would have opened the military to transgender men and women, and instead barred those who identify with a gender different from the one assigned at birth and who are seeking to transition.

The court’s five conservatives–Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh–allowed the restrictions to go into effect while tIhe court decides to whether to consider the merits of the case.

The liberal justices–Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan–would have kept the injunctions in place.

I feel nauseated.

From The New York Times last night: Deripaska and Allies Could Benefit From Sanctions Deal, Document Shows.

When the Trump administration announced last month that it was lifting sanctions against a trio of companies controlled by an influential Russian oligarch, it cast the move as tough on Russia and on the oligarch, arguing that he had to make painful concessions to get the sanctions lifted.

Sea hugs baby seal toy

But a binding confidential document signed by both sides suggests that the agreement the administration negotiated with the companies controlled by the oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, may have been less punitive than advertised.

The deal contains provisions that free him from hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while leaving him and his allies with majority ownership of his most important company, the document shows.

With the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election continuing to shadow President Trump, the administration’s decision to lift sanctions on Mr. Deripaska’s companies has become a political flash point. House Democrats won widespread Republican support last week for their efforts to block the sanctions relief deal. Democratic hopes of blocking the administration’s decision have been stifled by the Republican-controlled Senate.

From ABC News: US banker with ties to Putin’s inner circle sought access to Trump transition: Sources.

Nine days after Donald Trump won the presidency, as scores of supporters clamored for meetings with his transition team, the Hollywood producer of “The Apprentice,” Mark Burnett, reached out to one of Trump’s closest advisers to see if he would sit down with a banker who has long held ties to Russia.

The banker, Robert Foresman, never got the role he was seeking with the fledgling Trump administration. But he has recently attracted the attention of congressional investigators as one more name on an expanding list of Americans with established ties inside the Kremlin who appears to have been seeking access to the newly elected president’s inner circle, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Foresman, who is now vice chairman of the Swiss bank UBS’s investment arm, lived for years in Moscow, where he led a $3 billion Russian investment fund and was touted by his new company as someone who maintains connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Reached by phone, Foresman declined to comment. Attorneys he has hired, including one in Washington who was hired to deal with the congressional probe, also declined to discuss the matter.

One more and then I’ll wrap this up. Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: The GOP has become the Soviet party.

Once upon a time, Ayn Rand-reading, red-baiting Republicans denounced Soviet Russia as an evil superpower intent on destroying the American way of life.

My, how things have changed.

The Grand Old Party has quietly become the pro-Russia party — and not only because the party’s standard-bearer seems peculiarly enamored of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under Republican leadership, the United States is starting to look an awful lot like the failed Soviet system the party once stood unified against.

Supposedly middle-class workers — people who have government jobs that are supposed to be stable and secure — are waiting in bread lines. Thanks to government dysfunction and mismanagement, those employed in the private sector may also be going hungry, since 2,500 vendors nationwide are unable to participate in the food stamp program while the government is shuttered and unable to renew licenses for the Electronic Benefit Transfer debit card program.

Why? Because of the whims of a would-be autocrat who cares more about erecting an expensive monument to his own campaign rhetoric than about the pain and suffering of the little people he claims to champion.

And for now, at least, most of those little people are too frightened of the government’s wrath to fight back overtly. Instead, desperate to keep jobs that might someday offer them a paycheck again, the proletariat protest in more passive ways: by calling in sick in higher numbers.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Now, what stories have you been following? Please share in the comment thread below.

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Thursday Reads: Trump Russia, Giuliani’s Meltdown, and Other News

Good Morning!!

Last night I was thinking about when Obama was president and we would have days when there was nothing earth shattering in politics to talk about. There would be quiet Fridays and weekends with no significant news about the government. Now there are terrifying crises in the government every single day, including weekends. If only we could go back to those relatively peaceful times! Instead we have Trump.

This morning, there are so many significant stories, that I can’t possibly get to all of them, so I’ll begin with this stunning headline from Wired: Trump Must Be a Russian Agent; The Alternative is Too Awful, by Garrett Graff.

It would be rather embarrassing for Donald Trump at this point if Robert Mueller were to declare that the president isn’t an agent of Russian intelligence.

The pattern of his pro-Putin, pro-Russia, anti-FBI, anti-intelligence community actions are so one-sided, and the lies and obfuscation surrounding every single Russian meeting and conversation are so consistent, that if this president isn’t actually hiding a massive conspiracy, it means the alternative is worse: America elected a chief executive so oblivious to geopolitics, so self-centered and personally insecure, so naturally predisposed to undermine democratic institutions and coddle authoritarians, and so terrible a manager and leader, that he cluelessly surrounded himself with crooks, grifters, and agents of foreign powers, compromising the national security of the US government and undermining 75 years of critical foreign alliances, just to satiate his own ego.

In short, we’ve reached a point in the Mueller probe where there are only two scenarios left: Either the president is compromised by the Russian government and has been working covertly to cooperate with Vladimir Putin after Russia helped win him the 2016 election—or Trump will go down in history as the world’s most famous “useful idiot,” as communists used to call those who could be co-opted to the cause without realizing it.

At least the former scenario—that the president of the United States is actively working to advance the interests of our country’s foremost, long-standing, traditional foreign adversary—would make him seem smarter and wilier. The latter scenario is simply a tragic farce for everyone involved.

We’re left here—in a place unprecedented in American political history, wondering how much worse the truth is than we already know—after four days of fresh revelations in the public drip-drip-drip of the Russia investigation. The past two months have seen the public understanding of the case advance into almost unthinkable territory. Now we’re simply trying to figure out how bad things really are.

That’s about it. And will be eventually learn that a large proportion of Republicans in Congress are also either compromised by Russia or too stupid to see that their president is? After all, they did vote yesterday to lift sanctions on Paul Manafort’s buddy Oleg Derapaska’s businesses.

And did you see Rudy Giuliani’s meltdown on CNN last night? In case you missed it:

Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: Rudy Giuliani just contradicted nearly all the Trump team’s past collusion denials.

President Trump’s legal spokesman Rudolph W. Giuliani on Wednesday night appeared to grant the possibility that members of Trump’s campaign did, in fact, collude with the Russians during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

And in the process, he contradicted dozens of previous denials that both the Trump team (and Trump himself) have offered.

“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, before getting cut off.

“Yes, you have,” Cuomo said.

Giuliani shot back: “I have not. I said ‘the president of the United States.’”

But while Giuliani himself might not have assured that nobody on the campaign colluded, others including Trump sure have. In fact, the Trump team has moved the goal posts on this question no fewer than 10 times after initially denying any contact at all with “foreign entities.” Trump has said dozens of times that there was “no collusion,” full stop. This appears to be the first time anyone has acknowledged the possibility that someone colluded without Trump’s knowledge.

Read the rest for a list of Rudy’s successive walkbacks on whether there was collusion with Russia in the Trump campaign. Is this just a response to the many revelations about Paul Manafort or is Trump getting ready to throw Don Jr. under the bus? From Raw Story:

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s stunning interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Wednesday night is still making waves, and a CNN panel agreed on Thursday morning that it could spell big trouble for Donald Trump Jr.

While discussing Giuliani’s latest admission that there may have been some collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian government agents, host John Berman asked whether Trump Jr. should be worried that his father is preparing to throw him under the bus for potentially conspiring with a hostile foreign power.

“Would you be nervous if you’re Donald Trump Jr. or Jared Kushner?” Berman asked. “Did Giuliani just send a signal that… the president’s legal defense team isn’t here for you?”

“That’s what I heard,” replied New York Times reporter Astead Herndon. “Everyone under [Trump’s] level can now be considered fair game, if we’re talking about the political signaling.”

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent discussed Giuliani’s meltdown with attorney Neal Kayal.

Former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal told me that this appears to be a tacit admission of serious vulnerability — as well as an effort to lay the groundwork for a last-ditch defense of Trump, should more come out. It also makes the nonstop claims that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is leading a “witch hunt” look ridiculous.

“They’ve been saying for two years that this is a witch hunt,” Katyal told me. “As a lawyer, given the recent revelations, Giuliani now has to pivot and outline the next line of defense.”

“This is straight out of the organized-crime playbook,” Katyal continued. “The boss says, ‘There was no conspiracy.’ Then prosecutors prove there was a conspiracy between your subordinates and a criminal organization. Then the defense shifts to, ‘Okay, there was a conspiracy, but the boss didn’t know anything about it.’”

Sargent also asked Obama’s white house counsel Bob Bauer about Giuliani’s statements.

Bob Bauer, the White House counsel under former president Barack Obama, told me that Giuliani “must have some continuing hope” that Mueller cannot prove Trump knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort attended in the expectation of gaining dirt on Hillary Clinton produced by the Russian government.

That seems unlikely, given the latest from The New York Times on Trump’s black box meetings with Vladimir Putin: Trump and Putin Have Met Five Times. What Was Said Is a Mystery. The story recounts the meetings and phone calls Trump has had with Putin, beginning right after he was elected. But here’s the highlight of the story:

The inaugural meeting [in Hamburg, Germany] came at a sensitive time. Mr. Trump’s team learned that day that one of the biggest secrets of his presidential bid was about to become public: At the height of the campaign, his son, son-in-law and campaign chairman had met at Trump Tower with Russians on the promise of obtaining dirt on Mrs. Clinton from the Russian government. Mr. Trump’s team was scrambling to respond to a request for comment by The Times.

Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Putin that day lasted more than two hours. Afterward, Mr. Trump took his interpreter’s notes and instructed the interpreter not to brief anyone. Mr. Tillerson told reporters that the leaders discussed everything from Syria to Ukraine, but he also described “a very robust and lengthy exchange” on the election hacking.

A few hours later, Mr. Trump sought out Mr. Putin again during a dinner for all the leaders. Videotape later made public showed Mr. Trump pointing at Mr. Putin, who was seated across and down a long table, then pointing at himself and then making a pumping motion with his fist.

Mr. Trump later told The Times that he went over to see his wife, Melania Trump, who was sitting next to Mr. Putin, and the two leaders then talked, with Mr. Putin’s interpreter translating. No American officials were present, and the White House did not confirm the encounter until more than 10 days later, after it was independently reported.

Here’s the shocker:

The day after the two meetings, as Mr. Trump was on Air Force One taking off from Germany heading back to Washington, he telephoned a Times reporter and argued that the Russians were falsely accused of election interference. While he insisted most of the conversation be off the record, he later repeated a few things in public in little-noticed asides.

He said that he raised the election hacking three times and that Mr. Putin denied involvement. But he said Mr. Putin also told him that “if we did, we wouldn’t have gotten caught because we’re professionals.” Mr. Trump said: “I thought that was a good point because they are some of the best in the world” at hacking.

Asked how he weighed Mr. Putin’s denials against the evidence that had been presented to him by Mr. Comey; John O. Brennan, then the C.I.A. director; and James R. Clapper Jr., then director of national intelligence, he said that Mr. Clapper and Mr. Brennan were the “most political” intelligence chiefs he knew and that Mr. Comey was “a leaker.”

Later on the same flight Trump dictated a statement to the NYT about Don Jr.’s meeting with Russians at Trump Tower.

Mr. Trump huddled with aides to decide how to respond to the emerging story by other Times reporters about the Trump Tower meeting. He personally dictated a misleading statement, saying the meeting was about Russian adoptions without admitting that it was actually intended to accept Moscow’s aid for his campaign, as emails obtained by The Times later documented.

You may have seen this footage from the dinner in Hamburg, in which Trump signals to Putin and then clenches his fist. Was he signaling that he needed to talk to Putin about the NYT story?

More stories to check out:

Michael McFaul at The Washington Post: Sorry, but Trump is not ‘tough on Russia’

The Wall Street Journal: Poll-Rigging for Trump and Creating @WomenForCohen: One IT Firm’s Work Order.

The Epoch Times: EXCLUSIVE: In Closed-Door Testimony, Papadopoulos Identified Alleged Spy in Trump Campaign.

The Daily Beast: Rick Gates Tells Mueller About Trump Team’s Dealings With Israeli Intelligence Firm.

The Washington Post: North Korean spy chief’s visit to Washington shrouded in mystery.

CNN: Trump is fraying nerves inside the Pentagon.

Raw Story: Stephen Miller was writing SOTU to blame Democrats for shutdown — until Nancy Pelosi pulled the rug out: report.

So . . . what stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Having a childish, incompetent madman in charge of the government is so exhausting. How much more of this can we take? Today, Donnie is headed for the Texas border with Mexico to do something or other. Who knows what insane gibberish will spew from his deformed lips. All I know for sure is that it won’t make sense.

Donnie has been touting his “steel slat” fence for the past week, but guess what? Those slats can be cut through with a common household saw.

NBC News: Test of steel prototype for border wall showed it could be sawed through.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly advocated for a steel slat design for his border wall, which he described as “absolutely critical to border security” in his Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday. But Department of Homeland Security testing of a steel slat prototype proved it could be cut through with a saw, according to a report by DHS.

A photo exclusively obtained by NBC News shows the results of the test after military and Border Patrol personnel were instructed to attempt to destroy the barriers with common tools.

The Trump administration directed the construction of eight steel and concrete prototype walls that were built in Otay Mesa, California, just across the border from Tijuana, Mexico. Trump inspected the prototypes in March 2018. He has now settled on a steel slat, or steel bollard, design for the proposed border barrier additions. Steel bollard fencing has been used under previous administrations.

However, testing by DHS in late 2017 showed all eight prototypes, including the steel slats, were vulnerable to breaching, according to an internal February 2018 U.S. Customs and Border Protection report.

Photos of the breaches were not included in a redacted version of the CBP report, which was first obtained in a Freedom of Information Act Request by San Diego public broadcaster KPBS.

Gail Collins mocks Donnie’s wall obsession at The New York Times: Trump Hits the Wall. And what’s all that sniffling about?

We need to look at the bright side of Donald Trump’s border wall fixation.

Sure, he’s shut down the government and thrown the nation into chaos. But it could be worse. He could be demanding a fiery moat between us and Canada. Or building a 36,000-foot-deep barrier across the Pacific Ocean to drive home his commitment to tariffs.

See? There’s always a silver lining.

On Trump’s strange oval office address:

Maybe all this wall obsessing makes Trump tired. He certainly seemed low-energy during his Oval Office address. “He makes Jeb Bush look like a combination of Mighty Mouse and Bruce Springsteen,” a friend of mine said after the president finished his nine-minute speech to the American people.

For every viewer whose response to the talk was “Wow, we should do something about immigration!” there must have been a hundred whose first reaction was “Why does this man keep sniffing?” Deviated septum? Nasal polyps? Trump’s breathing has actually sounded strange for a long time, but most of us have chosen to ignore it rather than engage in a national conversation about the president’s nose.

If you watched the address — and really, you could have, it was only about as long as it takes to microwave popcorn — you saw a 72-year-old guy squinting at the teleprompter and making rather alarming breathing sounds while reading a speech about how we need a wall to protect women who are “sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico.”

This is not a man who should wrap his arguments around the idea of protecting women from sexual assault. But also, gee, he sounded like Uncle Fred who you haven’t seen for a while and suddenly he shows up for Thanksgiving with weird colored hair and vacant eyes and he’s talking into his mashed potatoes.

As the Trump shutdown continues, the administration has been giving tone-deaf advice to government employees who are going without pay.

The Washington Post: Coast Guard families told they can have garage sales to cope with government shutdown.

Employees of the U.S. Coast Guard who are facing a long U.S. government shutdown just received a suggestion: To get by without pay, consider holding a garage sale, babysitting, dog-walking or serving as a “mystery shopper.”

The suggestions were part of a five-page tip sheet published by the Coast Guard Support Program, an employee-assistance arm of the service often known as CG SUPRT. It is designated to offer Coast Guard members help with mental-health issues or other concerns about their lives, including financial wellness.

“Bankruptcy is a last option,” the document said.

The Coast Guard receives funding from the Department of Homeland Security and is subjected to the shuttering of parts of the government along with DHS’s other agencies. That stands in contrast to other military services, which are part of the Defense Department and have funding.

This is interesting, from Buzzfeed News: ICE Might Be Violating Federal Law By Keeping Immigrants Detained During The Shutdown.

A lengthy government shutdown over border wall funding has potentially put Immigration and Customs Enforcement at risk of violating a more than 100-year-old law that could not only require the release of “non-dangerous” individuals in the agency’s custody but also stop it from continuing to arrest and detain certain people, according to former senior ICE officials and experts.

The potential violation could complicate ICE’s operations at a time when President Donald Trump has argued that the shutdown is necessary to force Democrats to implement tougher immigration policies, such as building a wall on the US–Mexico border.

ICE contracts with nonfederal detention facilities, like county jails and private detention contractors, across the country to hold individuals detained by immigration agents. The agency pays for the bed space in various ways, including monthly payments or, in some cases, in advance.

As of Jan. 1, the agency was detaining more than 48,000 individuals, which is 8,000 more than the levels that had been provided for by the now-expired congressional funding. But nearly three weeks after its funding lapsed because of the shutdown, ICE has likely run out of money to pay contractors for the detention space it uses.

And while ICE has some non-appropriated funds it can lean on, those are not enough to pay for the overall detention space for more than a few weeks, said Kevin Landy, who was appointed during the Obama administration to run ICE’s Office of Detention Policy and Planning, a position he held for more than six years, up until 2017.

In other news, Kamala Harris is close to announcing a run for president in 2020.

KCBS Radio: Kamala Harris Ready To Enter Race For President, Sources Say.

Sen. Kamala Harris has decided to run for president in 2020 and will announce her candidacy on or around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, probably at a campaign rally in Oakland, sources close to the freshman senator from California tell KCBS Radio.

Harris, 54, has been making the rounds of television talk shows and appearing at several events this week as part of a brief tour to promote her new book, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.”

At every stop, when asked about running for president, Harris has answered with some variation of “I’m not ready yet” to announce her decision, citing family considerations. But several sources knowledgeable about her plans say she is ready, and has in fact decided to run, with the enthusiastic blessing of her husband and two stepchildren.

The debate within her camp is how, and where, to launch her campaign. The tentative plan is for Harris to enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination with a campaign rally, most likely in Oakland, where she was born and began her legal career.

And the media continues to belatedly vet Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign. Politico: Top Bernie Sanders 2016 adviser accused of forcibly kissing subordinate.

On the final night of the Democratic National Convention in July of 2016, Bernie Sanders’ staffers went out to a Mediterranean restaurant and hookah bar in Center City Philadelphia to celebrate and mourn the end of the campaign.

Sitting at the bar sometime after midnight, convention floor leader Robert Becker—who oversaw Sanders’ Iowa campaign, then helped lead his efforts in Michigan, California, and New York as deputy national field director—began talking with a female staffer who had worked under him along with her boyfriend.

Becker, now 50 years old, told the 20-something woman that he had always wanted to have sex with her and made a reference to riding his “pole,” according to the woman and three other people who witnessed what happened or were told about it shortly afterward by people who did. Later in the night, Becker approached the woman and abruptly grabbed her wrists. Then he moved his hands to her head and forcibly kissed her, putting his tongue in her mouth as he held her, the woman and other sources said.

The woman said she didn’t come forward at the time, because Sanders’ campaign was over. But when she was recently contacted by Becker about 2020 the women felt she had to speak up.

“Candidates who allow people like Robert Becker to lead their organizations shouldn’t earn the highest office in our government,” said the woman, who was granted anonymity because she feared retaliation from supporters of Sanders and Becker, who has a loyal following of his own.

“It just really sucks because no one ever held him accountable and he kept pushing and pushing and seeing how much he could get away with. This can’t happen in 2020. You can’t run for President of the United States unless you acknowledge that every campaign demands a safe work environment for every employee and volunteer.”

 


Tuesday Reads: Trump Tantrum Live From The Oval Office Tonight

Good Morning!!

The TV networks are giving Trump free time tonight to spout lies about a non-existent “crisis” at the Southern border. Fortunately, they are also giving equal time to Democrats to respond. But they should have just said no. After all, they refused to carry an Oval Office speech by Obama in 2014. Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

In 2014, Obama was ready to announce a series of executive actions on immigration in the wake of the collapse in negotiations over a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. The plan had a lot of moving parts, but the centerpiece was to give work permits and formal protection from deportation to millions of unauthorized immigrants while focusing the nation’s immigration enforcement resources on immigrants who’d committed violent crimes.

This was, naturally, very controversial. And Obama, naturally, wanted to try to make it less controversial by convincing people that it was a good idea.

Conservative pundits were, at the time, pushing the notion that Obama was essentially seizing power like a Latin American dictator, so essentially anything that refocused the conversation on banal policy details would have played to his advantage. TV networks, however, didn’t give him what he wanted, in part because it was November sweeps time, but officially because he was playing partisan politics rather than addressing a true national emergency.

So why are they running Trump’s obviously political speech? Because they’re scared. This is what what one anonymous network executive told CNN’s Brian Stelter.

This “exec” didn’t even have the guts to let Stelter use his name!

Here’s what the U.S. Secretary of State thinks of what Trump plans to say tonight.

These people are pathetic. Meanwhile, in Turkey, more pathetic incompetence from National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Bloomberg: Erdogan Snubs Trump Adviser Bolton for Blocking Syria Roadmap.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, frustrated by evolving U.S. conditions for quitting Syria, refused to meet with visiting National Security Adviser John Bolton and ripped into U.S. proposals to give Kurds a key role in Syria after the withdrawal.

Turkey is angered that Bolton, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and top American military officials are slowing what President Donald Trump suggested only weeks ago would be a quick exit. The delay would restrict Turkey’s ability to launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers enemies but who allied with a U.S. coalition to oust the Islamic State terrorist group from Syria.

“Although we made a clear agreement with U.S. President Trump, different voices are emerging from different parts of the administration,” Erdogan said as Bolton prepared to leave Ankara, where he met with other Turkish officials. “Trump’s remarks continue to be the main point of reference for us.”

It looks like attempts to walk back Trump’s insane policy decisions are no longer working.

Will Trump try to declare a national emergency tonight? I have no idea, but if he does it’s going to cause more problems than any of us can predict. Here are some opinions about what could happen, beginning with the worst case scenarios

Elizabeth Goitein at The Atlantic: What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency. A brief excerpt:

It would be nice to think that America is protected from the worst excesses of Trump’s impulses by its democratic laws and institutions. After all, Trump can do only so much without bumping up against the limits set by the Constitution and Congress and enforced by the courts. Those who see Trump as a threat to democracy comfort themselves with the belief that these limits will hold him in check.

But will they? Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest.

This edifice of extraordinary powers has historically rested on the assumption that the president will act in the country’s best interest when using them. With a handful of noteworthy exceptions, this assumption has held up. But what if a president, backed into a corner and facing electoral defeat or impeachment, were to declare an emergency for the sake of holding on to power? In that scenario, our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab. They might be what takes us down.

Read the whole thing at The Atlantic.

At Bloomberg, Noah Feldman disagrees, because only Congress can authorize spending: No ‘Emergency’ Will Allow Trump to Build His Wall.

President Donald Trump has said that he can declare a national emergency and order his border wall to be built. He’s wrong. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t contain any national emergency provision that would allow the president to spend money for purposes not allocated by Congress. And it’s clearer than clear that Congress not only hasn’t authorized money for a wall along the border with Mexico but also doesn’t intend to do so.

The upshot is that any attempt by Trump to get around Congress by using invented emergency powers would violate the Constitution. It almost certainly would be blocked by the courts. And it would constitute a high crime and misdemeanor qualifying him for impeachment.

Of course, Trump may not care. He’s established a pattern of taking clearly unconstitutional action, waiting for the courts to block it, and winning (at least in his estimation) political points with his Republican base regardless. It would be perfectly within that pattern for Trump to announce that he can do whatever he wants in a national emergency. He is expected to lay the groundwork for such a declaration in a prime-time address Tuesday. But we should recognize any such action for what it is: a usurpation of clear constitutional commands for the purposes of political grandstanding.

A bit more detail:

The Constitution does contain an emergency powers clause. Article I, Section 9 allows for the suspension of habeas corpus in cases of rebellion or invasion.

Those emergency powers are unsurprisingly varied and broad. But none of them can displace the Constitution itself. And it is the Constitution that says the Congress appropriates money and the executive spends it.

If there were some statutory provision saying that in an emergency the president could do things Congress otherwise has told him he can’t do, that would pose an intriguing constitutional question: Which law would prevail in a conflict between one saying the president could do something and another saying he couldn’t?

But I know of no law that says the president can spend money on purposes that Congress doesn’t want him to spend it on.

From the fact that the suspension clause exists, you can deduce something very basic to the U.S. constitutional system: There are no other inherent constitutional emergency powers. Yes, the president is commander in chief, with the power to defend the United States — but he can only do that with an army authorized and paid for by Congress.

That means any emergency power the president might have must come directly from Congress. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 is Congress’s last word on what emergency powers it gives the president. That law was enacted after Senate staffers’ research revealed some 470 emergency provisions across the whole of the U.S. Code.

As Trump often says, “we’ll see what happens.”

Trump thinks he knows better than anyone about anything, and yet we can all see that he knows almost nothing about what his job entails. This video has been floating around lately.

How to explain Trump’s illusion of competency? Seemingly in answer to this question, The Washington Post has posted an article on the Dunning-Kruger effect: What’s behind the confidence of the incompetent? This suddenly popular psychological phenomenon.

You may have witnessed this scene at work, while socializing with friends or over a holiday dinner with extended family: Someone who has very little knowledge in a subject claims to know a lot. That person might even boast about being an expert.

This phenomenon has a name: the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s not a disease, syndrome or mental illness; it is present in everybody to some extent, and it’s been around as long as human cognition, though only recently has it been studied and documented in social psychology.

In their 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates, who supposedly said something along the lines of “the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Put simply, incompetent people think they know more than they really do, and they tend to be more boastful about it.

To test Darwin’s theory, the researchers quizzed people on several topics, such as grammar, logical reasoning and humor. After each test, they asked the participants how they thought they did. Specifically, participants were asked how many of the other quiz-takers they beat.

Dunning was shocked by the results, even though it confirmed his hypothesis. Time after time, no matter the subject, the people who did poorly on the tests ranked their competence much higher. On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts.

That’s it for me today. I’m trying to decide whether to leave the TV off tonight or just mute it until the Democratic response begins. What are you going to do?


Lazy Saturday Reads: “Impeach the Motherf***er!”

Cartoon by Mike Thompson

Good Afternoon!!

Republicans and some journalists have taken to their fainting couches over a profanity used by a newly sworn-in Congresswoman, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). In case you missed it somehow, Tlaib said in a speech that she was going to Congress to “impeach the motherfucker.”

Although she only used one swear word, the NYT headline writer characterized her speech as “profanity laden.” Even Trump weighed in during his rambling word salad in the rose garden yesterday, claiming that Tlaib “dishonored” herself, her family, and disrespected the U.S. by using the same word that Trump allowed Kanye West to use in the oval office.

Here’s The New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos’ take:

Impeachment was always going to hang heavily over a divided Washington. But it took little more than 24 hours this week for a freshman House Democrat’s exuberant, expletive-laden impeachment promise to upend the bonhomie of a new Congress and prompt President Trump, by his own telling, to ask the newly elected speaker if Democrats planned to impeach him.

The episode began Thursday night, just hours after the 116th Congress was sworn in, when a camera captured Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan promising profanely to impeach Mr. Trump as she drew cheers from liberal activists at a celebration at a bar near the Capitol. By the time Mr. Trump discussed the matter directly in a news conference in the Rose Garden on Friday afternoon, weeks of speculation about his potential peril had burst into the open.

Republicans, eager to portray Democrats as out to destroy Mr. Trump’s presidency, piled on criticism of Ms. Tlaib — some of it racially tinged. (Ms. Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, is one of the first Muslims in Congress. The Christian Broadcasting Network referred to her as a “foul-mouthed Islamic congresswoman.”) Democratic leaders, who view discussion of impeachment as politically dangerous and premature, offered worried words meant to tamp down speculation about their intentions.

Fandos’ concern is duly noted. Now he can fuck off.

Rep. Tlaib responded to the uproar in an op-ed at The Detroit Free Press: Now is the time to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump.

President Donald Trump is a direct and serious threat to our country. On an almost daily basis, he attacks our Constitution, our democracy, the rule of law and the people who are in this country. His conduct has created a constitutional crisis that we must confront now.

Rashida tlaib

The Framers of the Constitution designed a remedy to address such a constitutional crisis: impeachment. Through the impeachment clause, they sought to ensure that we would have the power, through our elected representatives in Congress, to protect the country by removing a lawless president from the Oval Office.

We already have overwhelming evidence that the president has committed impeachable offenses, including, just to name a few: obstructing justice; violating the emoluments clause; abusing the pardon power; directing or seeking to direct law enforcement to prosecute political adversaries for improper purposes; advocating illegal violence and undermining equal protection of the laws; ordering the cruel and unconstitutional imprisonment of children and their families at the southern border; and conspiring to illegally influence the 2016 election through a series of hush money payments.

Whether the president was directly involved in a conspiracy with the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 election remains the subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. But we do not need to wait on the outcome of that criminal investigation before moving forward now with an inquiry in the U.S. House of Representatives on whether the president has committed impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors” against the state: abuse of power and abuse of the public trust.

Click on the link the read the rest.

Meanwhile, Trump used the F-word liberally during his meeting with Democratic leaders yesterday. The Daily Beast: Trump Referred to Shutdown as ‘Strike’ in Profanity-Laced Meeting With Democratic Leaders.

During Friday’s meeting at the White House over the ongoing shutdown standoff, President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made little substantive progress as Pelosi and Schumer urged Trump to reopen the government by Tuesday, according to three people familiar with the meeting.

One of these knowledgeable sources told The Daily Beast President Trump kicked off the meeting with a rant lasting roughly 15 minutes that included his $5.6 billion demand for a border wall, and threatened that he was willing to keep the government closed for “years” if that’s what it took to get his wall. He also, unprompted, brought up the Democrats who want him impeached, and even blamed Pelosi for new Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib saying at a party earlier this week that Democrats would impeach the “motherfucker” Trump. (It is unclear why Trump would think Pelosi was responsible for this.)

Trump proceeded to tell the room he was too popular to impeach.

Along with saying the word “fuck” at least three times throughout the meeting, the president bizarrely stated that he did not want to call the partial government shutdown a “shutdown,” according to the source. Instead, he referred to it as a “strike.” (Many of the federal employees affected by the weeks-long shutdown have been working without pay. That is essentially the opposite of a strike.)

During the course of this meeting, the Democrats in the room were visibly shaking their heads in exasperation.

Back in the real world, Americans are suffering from Trump’s latest temper tantrum.

The Washington Post: Millions face delayed tax refunds, cuts to food stamps as White House scrambles to deal with shutdown’s consequences.

Food stamps for 38 million low-income Americans would face severe reductions and more than $140 billion in tax refunds are at risk of being frozen or delayed if the government shutdown stretches into February, widespread disruptions that threaten to hurt the economy.

The Trump administration, which had not anticipated a long-term shutdown, recognized only this week the breadth of the potential impact, several senior administration officials said. The officials said they were focused now on understanding the scope of the consequences and determining whether there is anything they can do to intervene.

trash piles up in dc as the trump shutdown continues.

Thousands of federal programs are affected by the shutdown, but few intersect with the public as much as the tax system and the Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the current version of food stamps.

The partial shutdown has cut off new funding to the Treasury Department and the USDA, leaving them largely unstaffed and crippling both departments’ ability to fulfill core functions.

The potential cuts to food stamps and suspension of tax refunds illustrate the compounding consequences of leaving large parts of the federal govern­ment unfunded indefinitely — a ­scenario that became more likely Friday when President Trump said he would leave the government shut down for months or even years unless Democrats gave him money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Read more at the WaPo.

The Washington Post: Three dead in national parks as shutdown wears on.

Three days after most of the federal workforce was furloughed on Dec. 21, a 14-year-old girl fell 700 feet to her death at the Horseshoe Bend Overlook, part of the Glen Canyon Recreation Area in Arizona. The following day, Christmas, a man died at Yosemite National Park in California after suffering a head injury in a fall. On Dec. 27, a woman was killed by a falling tree at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee.

The deaths follow a decision by Trump administration officials to leave the scenic — but sometimes deadly — parks open even as the Interior Department has halted most of its operations. During previous extended shutdowns, the National Park Service barred public access to many of its sites across the nation to substantially decrease the risk of park damage and visitor injury.

The National Parks have a poop crisis on their hands.

National Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum said in an email that an average of six people die each week in the park system, a figure that includes “accidents like drownings, falls, and motor vehicle crashes and medical related incidents such as heart attacks.” Drowning, automobile accidents and falls are among the top causes of death at national parks….

In 1995 and 2013, respectively, the Clinton and Obama administrations made the decision to close the parks altogether. Officials concluded that keeping the parks open would jeopardize public safety and the parks’ integrity, but the closures also became a political cudgel for Democrats because they exemplified one of the most popular aspects of federal operations that had ground to a halt.

CNN: Hundreds of TSA screeners, working without pay, calling out sick at major airports.

Hundreds of Transportation Security Administration officers, who are required to work without paychecks through the partial government shutdown, have called out from work this week from at least four major airports, according to two senior agency officials and three TSA employee union officials.

The mass call outs could inevitably mean air travel is less secure, especially as the shutdown enters its second week with no clear end to the political stalemate in sight.
“This will definitely affect the flying public who we (are) sworn to protect,” Hydrick Thomas, president of the national TSA employee union, told CNN.

TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said the agency is “closely monitoring the situation” and that “screening wait times remain well within TSA standards,” although that could change if the number of call outs increases.

At New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, as many as 170 TSA employees have called out each day this week, Thomas tells CNN. Officers from a morning shift were required to work extra hours to cover the gaps.

Call outs have increased by 200%-300% at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where typically 25 to 30 TSA employees call out from an average shift according to a local TSA official familiar with the situation.

Union officials stress that the absences are not part of an organized action, but believe the number of people calling out will likely increase.

One more from The New York Times: Shutdown Leaves Food, Medicine and Pay in Doubt in Indian Country.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — For one tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the government shutdown comes with a price tag: about $100,000, every day, of federal money that does not arrive to keep health clinics staffed, food pantry shelves full and employees paid.

Chippawa Indian food bank in Michigan

The tribe is using its own funds to cover the shortfalls for now. But if the standoff in Washington continues much longer, that stopgap money will be depleted. Later this month, workers could be furloughed and health services could be pared back. “Everything,” said Aaron Payment, the chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, “is on the table.”

For many Americans who are not federal workers or contractors, a shutdown is a minor inconvenience. A trip to a national park may be canceled. A call to a government office may go unanswered. But for Native American tribes, which rely heavily on federal money to operate, a shutdown can cripple their most basic functions.

All across Indian Country, the federal shutdown slices deep. Generations ago, tribes negotiated treaties with the United States government guaranteeing funds for services like health care and education in exchange for huge swaths of territory.

Read the rest at the NYT.

So . . . what else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.


Lazy Caturday Reads

By Jackie Morris

Good Afternoon!!

The lies come thick and fast from the Trump administration. It’s not just Trump; it’s his entire gang of shameless prevaricators.

Remember those MAGA hats that Trump signed for service members in Iraq? The White House swore up and down to CNN that they didn’t distribute the campaign merchandise, but people who were there say otherwise.

Of course we can’t be sure these tweets are legit, but come on! Who actually believes these soldiers bought Trump hats and banners and had them shipped to Iraq? Give me a break. I know this is a minor scandal in the scheme of things Trump, but still…

And besides, this was supposed to be a secret, surprise visit, so are we supposed to believe these folks always carry their MAGA hats and banners around with them and to the mess hall?

OK, I know I’m beating a dead horse, but I get so tired of all the gaslighting.

Now check this out. Remember that NYT story awhile back about undocumented immigrants working at Trump’s New Jersey golf club?

The New York Daily News: New Jersey AG has obtained evidence of possible crimes at Trump’s golf club — and Mueller, FBI are involved in probe.

New Jersey prosecutors have collected evidence that supervisors at President Trump’s Garden State golf club may have committed federal immigration crimes — and the FBI as well as special counsel Robert Mueller have played part in the inquiry, the Daily News has learned.

Anibal Romero, a Newark attorney who represents several undocumented immigrants who used to work at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, said Friday he recently met with investigators from the state attorney general’s office and handed over fraudulent green cards and Social Security numbers that management at the club allegedly procured and gave his clients, Victorina Morales and Sandra Diaz.

Before he met with the state prosecutors, Romero said he reached out to Mueller’s office because, while he wanted to contact federal authorities, he was concerned about looping in the Justice Department, which was headed by Jeff Sessions at the time.

Mueller’s office got back to Romero and said the issue was out of their jurisdiction, but they apparently passed the information on to the FBI.

A few weeks later, an FBI agent in New Jersey called Romero.

“He said to me that he had received a referral from Robert Mueller’s office and that he already knew the specifics and that he wanted to meet with me in person,” Romero said.

By S. Telari, Deviant Art

Romero then met with two agents at a federal office in Branchburg, N.J., and outlined the same evidence he had already given the AG prosecutors. The agents said they would “coordinate” with the AG’s office, according to Romero.

Romero said he’s stayed in touch with the FBI and the attorney general’s office but declined to confirm whether either of the agencies have formally opened investigations.

“I’m confident that federal and state authorities will conduct a complete and thorough investigation,” Romero said.

How many states is Trump under investigation in now? I’ve lost count.

Here’s a funny media story from by Ashley Feinberg at HuffPost: The Thinnest Skins In Media In 2018. Their diapers runneth over. You’ll have to click on the link to read the details, but here’s the list of included media figures:

Jake Tapper, CNN Anchor And Respecter Of Troops

Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine Columnist And Scab

Jim VandeHei, Axios CEO And Co-founder, Unofficial Spokesman For Zuckerberg 2020

Maggie Haberman, Nonpartisan New York Times Non-non-reporter

Jonathan Swan, Axios-Branded Dictaphone

Chris Cillizza, CNN Something-Or-Other

Glenn Greenwald, Prophet Of Civil Liberties And Ironic Capitalization

Salena Zito, Gas Station Oracle

Chris Cuomo, Famous Brother Haver

Ben Wittes, Prose Torturer

Ashley Feinberg, Professional Corncob

Now go read. You won’t be sorry.

Here in Massachusetts, the Governor just signed a new law regulation short-term rentals. The Boston Globe: Baker signs long-awaited Airbnb bill, opening new era for industry.

Governor Charlie Baker on Friday signed first-of-its-kind legislation to tax and regulate the short-term housing rental market in Massachusetts, capping years of debate over how to navigate an industry that has exploded through companies like Airbnb.

The new rules will take effect July 1 and could transform a market that spans the state, from Cape Cod summer homes to Boston apartment buildings to Western Massachusetts vacation retreats.

The bill requires every rental host to register with the state, mandates they carry insurance, and opens the potential for local taxes on top of a new state levy. A chief negotiator for the House said the goal is to register every short-term rental in the state by September, and local officials, including in Boston, say the new law will help buttress their own efforts to regulate the booming market.

Airbnb is fighting back.

But before Baker’s ink could dry, the law drew a sharp rebuke from Airbnb, which called it “flawed” and unnecessarily complex. Advocates who have closely followed the process — including Airbnb’s decision to sue in federal court to overturn Boston’s municipal regulations — warn a lawsuit against the state could also follow.

More details on the law:

Beyond requiring all hosts to register and carry insurance, it also subjects short-term rentals to the same 5.7 percent state levy now paid by hotels — but exempts people who rent their homes 14 or fewer nights a year. Officials have estimated that tax could raise at least $25 million annually.

It also would allow cities and towns to impose their own taxes of up to 6 percent, except in Boston, where it would be 6.5 percent, with occasional hosts also exempted.

Additional taxes would be levied on hosts who own multiple units. And an extra fee would also fall on units in Boston, Cambridge, and a handful of other cities that support the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, but only after bonds are paid off on the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in South Boston.

Some cities, including New York and San Francisco, have used short-term rental registries to rein in the industry, but this law makes Massachusetts the first state to require all hosts to register. That, more than the taxes, has been the focus of debate in recent months.

It will be interesting to see how this works out.

Time Magazine has a new story on Paul Manafort: Exclusive: Russian Ex-Spy Pressured Manafort Over Debts to an Oligarch.

When the U.S. government put out its latest sanctions list on Dec. 19, the man named at the top did not seem especially important. Described in the document as a former Russian intelligence officer, he was accused of handling money and negotiations on behalf of a powerful Russian oligarch. The document did not mention that the man, Victor Boyarkin, had links to the 2016 campaign of President Donald Trump.

Jackie Morris for Amnesty International

A months-long investigation by TIME, however, found that Boyarkin, a former arms dealer with a high forehead and a very low profile, was a key link between a senior member of the Trump campaign and a powerful ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In his only interview with the media about those connections, Boyarkin told TIME this fall that he was in touch with Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in the heat of the presidential race on behalf of the Russian oligarch. “He owed us a lot of money,” Boyarkin says. “And he was offering ways to pay it back.”

The former Russian intelligence officer says he has been approached by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Boyarkin’s response to those investigators? “I told them to go dig a ditch,” he says. Peter Carr, the spokesman for the Special Counsel’s Office, declined to comment. Through his spokesman, Manafort likewise declined to comment on his alleged connections with Boyarkin.

But those connections could be potentially important to the Special Counsel’s inquiry. They would mark some of the clearest evidence of the leverage that powerful Russians had over Trump’s campaign chairman. And they may shed light on why Manafort discussed going right back to work for pro-Russian interests in Eastern Europe after he crashed out of the Trump campaign in August 2016, according to numerous sources in the TIME investigation.

Read the rest at the link. It’s a long story.

One more from Buzzfeed: These Are 50 Of The Biggest Fake News Hits On Facebook In 2018.

By Max Carlier

After spending two years launching third-party fact-checking programs, rolling out News Feed updates, and investing in other anti-misinformation initiatives, Facebook is still the home of viral fake news.

For the third year in a row, BuzzFeed News compiled a list of 50 of the most viral false stories on Facebook and measured their total engagement on the platform. And in spite of a prediction from Facebook’s top anti-misinformation product manager that these articles would see a decline in engagement in 2018, this year’s top-performing hoaxes generated almost as many shares, reactions, and comments as last year’s.

The top 50 fake stories of 2018 identified by BuzzFeed News generated roughly 22 million total shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook between Jan. 1 and Dec. 9, 2018, according to data from BuzzSumo and Trendolizer. This was only 7% fewer engagements than the 23.5 million engagements generated by to top 50 of 2017, and slightly more than the top 50 fakes identified by BuzzFeed News in 2016, when those links generated 21.5 million engagements.

Read the whole thing at Buzzfeed. How long before Facebook goes the way of AOL?

So . . . what else is happening on this long holiday weekend? Post your recommendations in the comment thread below.


Thursday Reads: Trump Flubs Troop Visit and Other News

Illustration by Nicole Gustafson

Good Afternoon!!

So Trump was finally shamed into visiting some troops in Iraq, and naturally everything about his visit was completely inappropriate. He acted as if he was a a campaign rally, bragging about his mythical accomplishments and telling bald-faced lies as usual.

Previous presidents have used these trips to praise soldiers and let them know that they are appreciated as well as to meet with local officials. Trump did none of that; and, as JJ noted yesterday, he revealed the classified location of Seal team troops and posted their faced on-line. On top of everything else, he autographed MAGA hats for troops who are forbidden from engaging in political activities.

Iraqi leaders were not happy.

Reuters: Iraqi lawmakers criticize Trump visit as blow to Iraqi sovereignty.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi political and militia leaders condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise visit to U.S. troops in Iraq on Wednesday as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty, and lawmakers said a meeting between Trump and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was canceled due to a disagreement over venue.

The Book Keeper, by Nicole Gustafson

Sabah al Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc, called for an emergency session of parliament “to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: The U.S. occupation of Iraq is over.”

The Bina bloc, Islah’s rival in parliament and led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, also objected to Trump’s trip to Iraq.

“Trump’s visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government,” said a statement from Bina.

CBS News: After Trump’s visit, Iraqi lawmakers demand U.S. withdrawal.

Baghdad — Iraqi lawmakers Thursday demanded U.S. forces leave the country in the wake of a surprise visit by President Donald Trump that politicians denounced as arrogant and a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

Politicians from both blocs of Iraq’s divided Parliament called for a vote to expel U.S. troops and promised to schedule an extraordinary session to debate the matter.

“Parliament must clearly and urgently express its view about the ongoing American violations of Iraqi sovereignty,” said Salam al-Shimiri, a lawmaker loyal to the populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Containing foreign influence has become a hot-button issue in a year that saw al-Sadr supporters win the largest share of votes in May elections. Al-Sadr has called for curbing U.S. and Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs.

The moron-in-chief can’t get anything right.

CNN: Troops bringing Trump hats to sign may violate military rule.

Seuss-Scape, by Nicole Gusafson

Video footage and the written report of Trump’s visit with service members in Iraq showed the President signing “Make America Great Again” hats and an embroidered patch that read “Trump 2020.”

But troops’ requests for the autographs could brush up against Department of Defense guidelines for political activities.

Those guidelines say that “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

The Daily Beast: Trump Takes a War-Zone Victory Lap—and Trips.

This should have been a victory lap for a president hailed by the military for letting them loose to attack ISIS, unconstrained by the reluctance and micromanagement of the Obama administration. But President Donald Trump has just announced the U.S. would be leaving the job to Turkey, deserting Kurdish and Western coalition allies, and abandoning the field of battle to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Russia, and Iran.

“We’re no longer the suckers, folks,” President Donald Trump told a group of about 100 troops, most of them special operators, in an unannounced holiday visit to al-Asad Airbase, in northern Iraq. He added that other countries can no longer expect the U.S. to do their fighting, unless they are willing to pay for it. “The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world,” he said….

“In Syria, Erdogan said he wants to knock out ISIS, whatever’s left, the remnants of ISIS,” Trump told reporters on the trip.  “And Saudi Arabia just came out and said they are going to pay for some economic development, which is great; that means we don’t have to pay.”

But what of the French and British allies the U.S. has left behind in Syria to keep up the fight? Does that mean they are the suckers left holding the bag? Or the Kurdish militia groups that did most of the fighting, and dying, to drive out the so-called Islamic State, now left to the tender mercies of sworn enemy Turkey?

The president was unrepentant, explaining that he gave “the generals” multiple six-month “extensions” to get out of Syria. “They said again, recently, can we have more time? I said, ‘Nope.’ You can’t have any more time. You’ve had enough time. We’ve knocked them out. We’ve knocked them silly,” he said. “Others will do it too. Because we are in their region. They should be sharing the burden of costs and they’re not.”

But the decision hasn’t sat well with many in the special-operations community Trump was addressing, as they’ve known many of these Kurdish fighters for years, and risked life and limb on joint missions together well before the ISIS fight.

In other news, it’s looking more and more like the Trump Organization could end up being indicted in New York. Perhaps that will force Trump out even if the Republicans protect him from impeachment.

NBC News: Probe of Trump’s charity could crash ‘like a Mack Truck’ into his real estate empire.

The Trump Foundation and the Trump Organization shared much more than President Donald Trump’s last name.

And that’s why, experts said, the New York state investigations into the charity could envelop the president’s namesake business.

Illustration by Nicole Gustafson

“Nothing but overlap here. It all was held so tightly by he and his family members,” NBC News/MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor, told NBC News.

“I don’t think there will be any investigative daylight between what the New York state authorities and investigators are looking into with respect to the foundation vs. the organization vs. anything else involving business dealings that have the name ‘Trump’ attached to them,” he said, predicting that the foundation investigation will “crash through (the Trump Organization) like a Mack Truck.”

Wouldn’t that be fun to watch? A bit more:

Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor and NBC News/MSNBC legal analyst, said that because some of the same people alleged by the state attorney general of persistent illegal activity in running the charity are also involved with the president’s business, there is reasonable justification in broadening the investigation.

“It is likely that the investigation into the Trump Foundation has sufficiently overlapped with the Trump Organization that (state) investigators would be justified in extending their investigation into the Trump Organization,” he said.

The foundation itself had no employees, instead relying on Trump Organization staffers to cut its checks. Prior to taking office in 2017, Trump turned over day-to-day control of his business to his adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer. Both sons were among the charity’s board members, while Weisselberg was listed as its treasurer.

Meanwhile Trump is trying to use the government shutdown to post pone the emoluments case against him in Virginia.

Politico: Trump lawyers, citing shutdown, ask court for delay in emoluments case.

Lawyers for President Donald Trump are invoking the government shutdown to seek a delay in a court case over claims that Trump is illegally profiting from business his Washington hotel does with foreign countries.

Illustration by Nicole Gustafson

Justice Department attorneys representing Trump asked a federal appeals court on Wednesday to postpone indefinitely all further filings in an appeal related to a suit that the governments of Maryland and Washington, D.C., filed over Trump’s alleged violation of the Constitution’s ban on foreign emoluments.

The government’s brief is not due until Jan. 22, but DOJ lawyers asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Va., to put the appeal on ice until the shutdown ends.

“The Department does not know when funding will be restored by Congress,” Justice lawyers wrote. “Absent an appropriation, Department of Justice attorneys and employees are prohibited from working, even on a voluntary basis, except in very limited circumstances, including ‘emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property’. … Undersigned counsel for the Department of Justice therefore requests a stay of briefing on the President’s mandamus petition until Congress has restored appropriations to the Department.”

I don’t understand why the DOJ is defending Trump for illegally profiting from his office.

If you have some extra time today here are two long reads on immigration to check out.

A long read from ProPublica: He Drew His School Mascot — and ICE Labeled Him a Gang Member. How high schools have embraced the Trump administration’s crackdown on MS-13, and destroyed immigrant students’ American dreams.

Another long read from The Washington Post: When death awaits deported asylum seekers. Ronald Acevedo waited eight months for asylum in Arizona. Days after he was deported, he was found dead in the trunk of a car.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?